Age discrimination happens all the time. According to a study by the Urban Institute, “about one-half of full-time, full-year workers ages 51 to 54 experience an employer-related involuntary job separation after age 50 that substantially reduces earnings for years or leads to long-term unemployment”. This is ageism in the workplace. Ageism also exists throughout society – from our institutions to advertising and the media, and even how we think about ourselves. Studies and research continue to show that people are discriminated against in many ways because of age.
Changing the Narrative is here because we believe that:
- Ageism is real.
- Ageism is a problem.
- There are things we can do about ageism.
That’s an enumerated list for a reason. Each of those is an idea that needs buy-in before people will take action. We’re going to tackle these one at a time.
Is ageism a real “ism”?
What is ageism? It is “stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination towards people on the basis of age“. Ageism is alive and well and even a topic in the news. Nearly 17 million results came up in a half second in a recent search on #OKBoomer, months after the meme dominated conversations. One thing that meme brought to light is that ageism is real. People hold stereotypes and have prejudices about other generations and they feel justified in proclaiming them and using them to dismiss the concerns of others.
Ageism is an “ism” because it assumes that everyone who has one quality (in this case, being over a certain age) also shares other characteristics. However, not all Boomers are the same and not all Millennials are the same. Can everyone from a whole generation really be that similar, regardless of the myriad socioeconomic and cultural factors that affect us as well?
We are all products of different experiences. The experience of aging is also changed by other factors. For instance, “Age discrimination manifests in longer spells of unemployment for women“. Another example: aging alone is increasing at different rates for different groups: “2.2 percent of Black women and 1.7 percent of Black men were “kinless” in 2015, compared to just over 1 percent of White women and less than 1 percent of White men.”
Ageism is tricky, because in some cases, stereotypes can correspond to some people’s experiences. Age does bring changes. However, it does not always bring the same things to everyone and not at the same time. Knowing a given person’s age, for instance, does not mean knowing how healthy they are, what their beliefs are, or how skilled they are with technology. Ageism allows people to dismiss someone without knowing anything more about them than their age.
Ageism harms individuals, communities & the economy
Generalizations and stereotypes can obscure the truth and, sometimes, they are just wrong. There are plenty of myths to dispel about older workers , for instance. Even when something is true in the average, this does not mean that a given individual will have that trait. Ageism blinds us to the broad range of realities that exist.
Ageism hurts economically. A recent AARP study found that “The economy missed out on an additional $850 billion to U.S. GDP in 2018—a figure the size of Pennsylvania’s economy— because of age discrimination. This gap could rise to $3.9 trillion in 2050.” Yet, age discrimination in the workplace is very real, despite the wisdom of keeping people working longer.
Some other ways ageism hurts us as individuals and in our communities:
- Ageism has been shown to have real health impacts that impact quality of life and increase the cost of health care to both individuals and society.
- Ageism impacts our mental health, which can also impact our physical health. People with positive ideas about aging lived up to 7.5 years longer.
- Ageism can lead us to ignore injustice and the needs of older adults.
- The quality of health care is impacted by ageism, with older adults sometimes receiving worse health care because of the ageist behavior and beliefs of providers.
This is just a start. Ageism impacts the workplace, politics, housing and virtually every aspect of our lives. (Try an internet search on ageism + (your favorite issue) or here’s a long read, if you are hungry for more.)
The good news
There are things we can do to start changing minds, both our own and others, about aging and ageism. Education and intergenerational connections have been shown to reduce ageism. We can change our minds when our experience shows us something new. Some possibilities:
- Reframing aging – Learn how think, talk and write about aging in a new way. Read more here and find training here.
- Talking to each other – Change starts with a conversation. Talk to someone from a different generation -and listen. Remember that conversations involve both giving and receiving. Want some guidance? Check out our toolkit.
- Join the movement – Ready for more? CTN is doing even more in 2020. Stay in touch and find out what is happening next.
Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger